Saturday, September 08, 2012

This Senseless, Sensate World

I lie in bed and stare at the inky sky that holds color for just a moment. Now things are dark and I wish the inside of the house were too. 

It's been a little more than a month and a half and what an extraordinary time it has been. I landed at Bombay airport and waited for my father to show up like he has a hundred thousand times before..except this time I was in no hurry. And so I waited by the side of suitcases one, two, and three as the city's lucid humidity settled in and around my stone bench. Three other women huddled beside me, all of us awash in the distances we had travelled. A child wailed and another skipped merrily along. I stared for a few moments and then did what has become second nature for my "I need to look busy" and "I really don't know how to sit still" self. I pulled out a book. 

A Lovers' Discourse is an extraordinary text, but it is also an extraordinarily apt text to read when one is out of sync. Barthes reminds you that what you feel or think or do may be singular but you are not alone. You participate in the discursive milieu that defines, in the case of this particular text, the plight of the lover, of the one who pines, the one who waits, the one whose love is already a lost plot. 

Am I in love? --yes, since I am waiting. The other one never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn't wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game. Whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover's fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits.” 

Perhaps this is also the fate of those that have lived in two countries. Perhaps they will never fully comprehend belonging even as they catch glimpses of it. Perhaps familiarity will have to stand in for knowledge. Perhaps I will wait to be able to say that I live in India now. 

And then again, perhaps I will use Kathleen Stewart's strategy and list my claims instead. 

Umbrellas. Traffic. Chor bazaar. Rains. Humidity. Hindi. Tamil. English. Trains. Marathi. Speed. Songs. Earth. Throngs. Inching. Patience. Staring. Crows, a hundred strong, perched on the tree next door. The magnificent Greater Coucal that is so pretty but eats the eggs off neighboring nests. Snakes. Crunch. Torn billboards. Green. Indigo. Attar. 

This is hard work. This list is terrible. Let's try again.

The road that rushes past my terror-stricken eyes. These people that walk the world at every hour of night and day. TRushing, regurgitating sky that inks over my head. The flash of gold that flew past my staring eyes. The hours I spend reading on my bed summarily staring out the iron-grilled windows. The day that is divided into four different meals from my mother's kitchen. The smells that take on physical form, some like a whiff of smoke, others like a living, breathing animal, and still others like the dreams one has that one cannot remember. 

I am thinking of two people today, Jeanne Favret-Saada and e.e.cummings. Favret-Saada writes of a culture of witchcraft in the Bocage, in rural western France. And before you wonder why this talk in a post that seems to talk of nothing at all, hold on. Her claim that I find poignant, exciting, and intensely difficult is that in order to know witchcraft, one must be caught up in it oneself, in its deadly words. This is an intense thesis to say the least. Leave aside questions of so-called objectivity, which this ethnographer thinks is a waste of intellectual effort in any case. But instead, think more seriously about what it means to be caught up. Is this the same as blind belief? Or is it suspended disbelief? Do we put away for the morrow what in this picture does not appeal to us? Do we endlessly postpone our ignorance and our stubbornness? And so on and so forth. And why e.e.cummings? This I cannot explain. For this you must read him. 

And so my lovely readers, I leave you with this last thought. We are caught up. In worlds that bewitch us. And like the poets that we love, we must take these deadly words, these deadly worlds, and we must play.